The Enemy at Home

France under Occupation in World War I

AC0433-0005970Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

There is first a reminder of “Autorité Militaire Allemande” – German Military Authority. The following paragraphs inform citizens that this notice comes from the Mayor of Lunéville, warning them that they are, “under the most severe penalties,” to avoid any attempts to communicate with Allied airplanes or French armies.

If anyone should attempt to do so, the commander of the German forces – Colonel Lidl – would “secure a considerable number of hostages, both in the working class and in the bourgeoisie.” The mayor then promises that this is not merely for the prevention of crime but for the safety of the civilian population.

This illustrates the use of posters as a means of conveying information, rather than as merely a form of art. It also reveals how German forces overcame language barriers during periods of occupation.

AC0433-0002168Smithsonian's National Museum of American History

Whereas the former implies that occupation is a necessity, the following American propaganda poster from World War I shows occupation from the eyes of the civilians rather than the invaders.

Playing on American fears, the Department of the Treasury uses the stereotypical image of the Hun to incentive the purchasing of war bonds. World War I Allied propaganda often referred to Germans as Huns as a means of depicting them as primitive and bloodthirsty.

The pointed helmet is a classic feature of World War I German military gear, as well as an allusion to the spiked helmets worn by Huns. The poster’s use of black crayon makes the German soldier a hulking, incomprehensible black shadow.

Hints of red at the German’s feet and on the woman's legs, along with what appear to be a pile of bodies or wreckage, shows the destruction that the “Huns” bring.

In contrast to the blurry soldier, the images of the woman and child are much cleaner. The viewer can then see and sympathize more with these figures. The use of a baby, the only figure that is almost entirely in color, is a call to protect innocence.

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